Hot Brown in the City

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“This looks like it’s going to be a pretty bumpy flight”—so began my trip to New York City.

“But no worries—we have snacks,” one of the flight attendants said with a cheeky grin before proceeding to demonstrate how to secure an oxygen mask and tighten the seatbelt. No one paid attention to the safety information, but, even amidst the ungodly turbulence, the promise of stale pretzels and overpriced liquor mixed with flat soda—all served up in a plastic cup—was enough to soothe the qualms of the angsty passengers.

Familiar food has that calming effect on people.

Take the man in seat 10C, for example. After being twice berated by the flight attendant because he couldn’t manage to neatly fit his two Prada satchels—one black and one chestnut-colored—under the seat in front of him, he spent the entire flight nervously binging on Turkish comedy routines and dried apricots. They seemed to make him feel better.

It’s kind of like when I’m sick—flu, strep throat, head cold, anything—all I want is a buttery croissant and hot green tea.  That is one of the finest comfort foods for me. It comes in many forms: for some, it’s a diner-style hamburger served up with French fries and a chocolate shake, for others, it’s tikka masala served over white rice with naan.

And, most recently for me, it was a Hot Brown found a few blocks from Times Square.

For those of you unfamiliar with Kentucky traditions, the Hot Brown is a classic—conceived and perfected in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel. It’s an open-faced turkey sandwich, served on crusty toast, smothered in creamy Mornay sauce and topped with bacon and tomato slices. It’s a decadent slice of Bluegrass Heaven, a staple in diners across the Commonwealth —and an unexpected find amidst the Halal food trucks and the overcrowded chain restaurants decked in New York neon.  

After a few days in the city, Times Square grates on my nerves. The first night, it always takes my breath away—the lights, the bustling, the sounds. But by the second or third morning, it all registers more like glaring screens, oppressing crowds and a lot of noise. I was tired of being harassed by street-corner salesmen peddling tickets to comedy shows, only to turn the next corner and be greeted by a swarm of six costumed Elmos, each with increasingly matted fur. It was cold and drizzling, and I had no obligations until midafternoon.

Thus, being a Louisville girl, my immediate thought was “brunch.”

Located on West 52 Street, is Bar Americain. The brasserie is Chef Bobby Flay’s nod to regional American cooking, while still maintaining the bold flavors he is known for. So, with a glowing recommendation from the concierge (and the knowledge that I was eating at my culinary crush’s restaurant), I made the ten block walk for brunch, and was thrilled to find Kentucky cuisine tucked thrice into the menu offerings.

Kentucky 95: Maker’s Mark, Champagne, fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice

Kentucky Ham Eggs Benedict

And then I saw it—Kentucky Hot Brown

It arrived to my table cheesy, bubbling and browned, just like from any restaurant in Louisville, but complete with a dash of added excitement atop the familiarity. A culinary equivalent to the ever pleasant “hey, I know that song” feeling. It was a piece of home that reminded me to relish the rest of my visit because I knew that I was coming back to Louisville soon. 

About Ashlie Danielle Stevens
Freelance writer based in Louisville, Kentucky. Writing curator of eclectic experience.
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